Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, offers ample opportunities to explore it’s myriad cultural, historic and culinary treasures.
Mahatma Gandhi referred to it as the ‘Evergreen city of India’. He was apparently awed by the extent of greenery, especially palm trees in Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum).
For those visiting Niraamaya’s flagship retreat at Kovalam, an added bonus is this nearby state capital of Kerala. A site of ancient culture, its urban form began taking shape in the late 17th century under Maharaja Marthanada Varma. During the era of the Travancore kingdom, a princely state during the British rule in India, Thiruvananthapuram became a major academic and cultural hub.
Our retreat offers a number of guided trips to explore the city, delving into its historic antecedants as well as experience the social, cultural and culinary sides of this multifaceted story.
Easily the place most tourists are curious about is the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, where one of the largest treasure troves of gold ever – about Rs1.2 trillion – was found a few years ago. In fact, the name of the city is derived from this temple, which is dedicated to Lord Ananta. Thiruvananthapuram is a derivative of ‘Ananthapuri’, or the city of the Lord Ananta. Built at the edge of a large pond, the temple architecture shows a mix of Kerala and Tamil influences, with a seven-tier gopuram or gateway that rises about 100 feet. Yes, there’ lots of security to enter the temple, and some dress codes to keep in mind. Men are only allowed to wear the traditional Kerala mundu only, with no upper body clothing such as shirts or vests allowed, though wrapping an unstitched garment such as a shawl is permitted. Women are permitted only wearing saris or the Kerala set-mundu! Fancy some dress up? Inside, visitors can see many features such as a golden mandap (hall), a 500-pillared corridor, musical pillars, and a plethora of sculptures and mural paintings.
Another prominent temple is the Ganapathy temple. There are 32 different forms of the deity (Ganesha) in this temple. The temple, originally maintained by the Travancore Army, is now looked after the Indian Army. Yes, you have to follow the dress-code here too.
Another landmark in the city is Kuthiramallikka Palace, constructed by famous musician king – Maharaja Swati Thirunal in the 19th century. The palace gets its name from the fascinating 122 carved wooden horses that are carved into the wooden wall brackets that support the southern roof. A ruler who was known for running an efficient and clean administration, the palace features several relics and antiques belonging to him. A portion of Kuthira Malika has been converted to a Palace Museum that houses some of the assets owned by the Travancore Royal Family. Of the 80 rooms in the palace, 20 are open for visitors.
A prominent museum in the city is the Napier Museum, named after Lord Napier – the Governor of Madras from 1866–72. The museum houses a rare collection of archaeological and historic artifacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments, a temple chariot, and ivory carvings. The museum includes the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, which contains works from Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich, as well as examples of Mughal and Tanjore art. The gallery, established in 1935, features a unique collection of traditional and contemporary paintings including by some major artists such as Raja Ravi Varma, Nicholas Roerich, Rabindranath Tagore among others, amounting to approximately 1100 paintings in the gallery. The museum grounds also have famous Trivandrum Zoo, which is one of the oldest zoological gardens in India.
Need a bit of retail therapy now? The city’s traditional markets or bazaars are full of local, especially Chaalai Bazaar – a dense two-kilometer stretch full of lanes and by-lanes full of shops that have everything for a local customer. For visitors, buying spices is seems to be a compulsory activity, though Kerala saris, mundu and handicrafts are popular purchases too.
The tour includes a traditional culinary experience – the Kerala sadya, the Malayalam word for banquet. Sadya consists of a variety of vegetarian dishes traditionally served on a banana leaf in Kerala and can have about 24-28 dishes. Along with boiled rice, other dishes, collectively called Kootan, include multiple curries such as Parippu, Sambar, Rasam, Pulisseri and others like Kaalan, Avial, Thoran, Olan, Pachadi, mango pickle, Naranga curry, as well as Papadum, banana, plain yogurt or buttermilk, and plantain chips. If you think you have over indulged – and that’s common – the meal may be followed by vettila murukkan, chewing of betel leaf with lime and arecanut, which help in digestion.
Of course, there are a number of interesting excursions near the city. A popular trip is to the famed Kerala backwaters. The nearest spots are on the Poovar estuary, once an epicentre of trade in sandalwood, spice and ivory.
Another nearby attraction is the adjacent port town Vizhinjam. The kings of Ay dynasty shifted their capital to Vizhinjam and they built a fort around the 8th century. The most popular thing to do here is to climb the lighthouse. 45 years old, it is still a working lighthouse and offers an almost aerial view of the beach.
For those interested in wildlife, the Neyyar dam, part of Neyyar wildlife sanctuary offers a chance to spot elephants, wild buffaloes, wild board, wild boar, porcupines, tigers and a variety of snakes – a scenic reservoir that teams with wildlife. The Elephant Rehabilitation Centre is a major draw, especially as visitors can join the elephant trainers in helping bathe the elephants.
Of course, there are other cultural options to witness as well, such as a performance of the traditional martial art, Kalarippayattu, which is considered to be the mother of all martial arts. For a more relaxed time, indulge in a relaxing Kerala massage. The retreat offers multiple massages, and there are many massage centres in the city too.